Quick Checks for Understanding

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An important part of the teaching process is to be consistently checking-in to ensure students have mastered the concept. Strategies that are quick, occur frequently and include feedback are an excellent way of not only checking for understanding, but also for providing reinforcement which further consolidates student learning.

When using the following strategies, it is important that students realise that it is fine to make a mistake as the research shows it’s better to have a go and make a mistake (provided constructive feedback is provided) than to not make an attempt or even to reread the information.

1. Thumbs up/down/sideway

Ask students a question which they can answer by:

  • Thumbs up: Correct
  • Thumbs down: Incorrect
  • Thumbs sideways: I don’t know or it could be both.

You have just taught a lesson on nouns. Call out a mixture of nouns and non-nouns (e.g., window, chair, sing, large, verandah, watch). Students do thumbs up if the word is a noun, thumbs down if not a noun and thumbs sideways if they don’t know or it could be both. “Watch’ could be both a noun and a verb, so thumbs sideways would be the best answer.

You can take this strategy a step further by asking students who indicated correctly to prove the word is a noun.

Variations of this technique could be:

  • Have students stand up or stay seated.
  • Have students point to or move to different locations – this would be particularly effective if you were revising multiple concepts (e.g., nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs).

2. Mini Whiteboards

Students write an example or an answer on a mini-whiteboard and then hold it up.

* Write an adjective that could be used with the noun ‘door’.
* Write the 3 most commonly ways of representing the /ay/ sound.

3. Draw

Ask students to create a visual or symbolic representation (e.g., a graphic organiser, web or concept map) of information and abstract concepts and then be prepared to explain their graphic. It is important to stress that the students should use symbols and quick, simple line drawings. Drawing techniques are especially useful to see if students understand how various concepts or elements of a process are related.

* Construct a word web of a particular word (e.g., bat – verb, noun, idiom → quick illustrations to show different meanings).
* The key elements in a story with linking arrows.
* Draw pictures/symbols of words containing a particular grapheme.

4. Correct

Give students a sample of an error and then see if they can identify the error, explain why it is an error and correct it.

* A word spelled incorrectly.
* A sentence punctuated incorrectly or an incomplete sentence.
* A word read incorrectly.

    5. Summarise

    Having students frequently summarise what they are learning increases comprehension and retention as well as providing insight into their understanding.

    * Record a verbal explanation or write the key steps in writing a persuasive essay, without reference to notes.
    * Explain to your partner the meaning of a pronoun, an idiom, etc.
    * Write 3 sentences about the character using the same sentence stem followed by a different preposition (Jack was ___ because….; Jack was ____ after……; Jack was ____ when ….).

      6. Apply

      You know students have really understood a concept when they can transfer and apply this knowledge to unique situations.

      * Students have learned to spell the word ‘purple’ and you ask them to spell ‘turtle’.
      * Students provide an example of a simile or an idiom they have learned.
      * Students decode a pseudo-word containing graphemes they have been learning.

        Final Thoughts

        Several of these techniques can be successfully used in conjunction with exit cards, in which students write the information on a sticky note, small card or in a designated notebook before leaving the room. These are passed to the teacher as the students exit the room.

        Remember that these are informal assessment strategies and consequently they should be used after a concept has been explicitly taught. They are also just one step in the learning cycle and teachers need to use the feedback as a guide to concepts which need to be retaught or to identify students who require greater scaffolding.